How To Unclog A Super Backed Up Drain

IN YOUR FACE, CLOG.

Please excuse me if this post comes off as hyper or deranged or a little bit of both, but yesterday at exactly 5:41pm I told that drain who was boss and cleared the clog. Victory is mine! And yes I did have my hands up in the hallelujah pose for at least five minutes while I stared at the euphorically-empty-tub before breaking into a full body happy dance (think Elaine from Seinfeld). The funny thing is that I did it all by myself while John was on his way home from work (gotta love girl power) and without spending a dime or using a drop or Drain-o, Liquid Plumr, or anything else that could put hair on my chest (or singe any off of John’s). Woo to the hoo.

But before we get to the drain-clearing miracle that occurred less than 24 hours ago, we have to say THANK YOU to all of the amazing guys and gals who weighed in with tons of helpful suggestions on yesterday morning’s post about our clogged drain (all 175 of you!). If anyone reading this is having a drainage issue, definitely read through all of the amazingly helpful and diverse comments (at the end of this post) for more ideas than you’ll know what to do with! We even had some plumbers (and wives/daughters of plumbers) weigh in with direct advice from the experts themselves and for that we’re eternally grateful.

For anyone dealing with a backed up sink, let’s take a look back at the initial things we did to try to solve the clog that wouldn’t quit (seriously, not an inch of water would drain in a 24 hour period):

  • Fishing around with our fingers (gross, we know) dislodged a decent-sized hairball (or what John affectionately called a Sherr-ball) but didn’t open the floodgates.
  • Plunging released a few more items we’d rather not have seen again, but still no change in water level.
  • Even our 25 foot-long drain snake (i.e. auger) was a waste of time (though we had low expectations for it anyways).
  • So then we broke out the boiling water trick that had saved our kitchen sink last year. After five attempts we had only succeeded in adding more water to our tub.
  • That’s when we turned to a natural remedy: a half-cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar. We did that, watched our little drain volcano fizz, let it sit for five minutes, then flushed it with a gallon of boiling water. Still no luck. Even our second attempt provided no relief, just more science project flashbacks.
  • I also tried this $3 As Seen On TV quality Zip-It tool referred to us by a friend on Facebook. It didn’t yield anywhere close to the über disgusting results shown in this video about it, which we were half grateful for and half frustrated by.

So after sharing those attempts in our last post where we begged for help, many readers piped up with these additional ideas (and this is just a sampling so be sure to check out all of their comments for even more):

  • Pour a bottle of Dawn dish detergent down the drain and let it sit to break up grease
  • Use a wire hanger to fish around for the clog
  • Shoot CLR Plumber right into the drain (it’s a can of pressurized air or gas that can blast out the clog)
  • Try Drain-o, Thrift, Liquid Plumr, Paqua, or Instant Power Hair Relief products with varying levels of chemicals to dissolve it
  • Dump Nair into the drain to eat up the hairball
  • Pour a two-liter bottle of Coke down the drain so it erodes the clog
  • Try the Kleer Drain from Home Depot to blast out the blockage
  • Use a drain balloon along with a garden hose to get things moving again
  • Remove the trap in the basement/crawl space to get rid of the clog & snake the drain from that angle
  • Check the vent pipe on the roof to be sure it’s not clogged with debris (air flow helps water flow)
  • Ensure that the stopper valve didn’t fall closed deep inside the pipe, thereby blocking the water from draining
  • Remove the overflow cover (on the side of the tub under the faucet) and pull out the spring and clean it of any hair/junk

Obligatory warning: of course we’re not plumbers so we can’t vouch for all of the suggested remedies above, and you should always take the types of pipes that you have- and their conditions- into consideration when trying to clear them (we have galvanized metal ones but have heard that some of the harsher solvents and chemicals can melt newer PVC pipes and even rust metal ones, so we wouldn’t go crazy with ten of these remedies at once for example). And maybe try starting off with the milder options like the wire hanger, Dawn detergent, pressurized treatments, etc before breaking out the super crazy acid-based solutions).

Second obligatory warning: if you have tried one of the more chemical fixes above (like Drain-O, Nair, Liquid Plumbr, etc, and eventually do end up calling in a plumber, PLEASE tell the plumber which chemicals you’ve already tried to help them avoid nasty chemical burns!

But back to business. Let’s get to the exact method that did the job (paired with some pretty insane determination):

Step 1: Talk some smack to the drain, just so it knows you’re not messing around this time. I think I said something to the effect of “Ok, enough of the namby pamby stuff, I’m serious. Dead serious.”

Step 2: If there’s any standing water in the tub (which was always the case with ours since it wasn’t draining at all) use a bucket and a large sponge to empty the tub as much as possible (I dumped the water into the nearby toilet and it periodically flushed itself- fun).

Step 3: Use a screwdriver to remove the overflow cover on the side of the tub under the faucet and pull out the metal coil to inspect it for any hair or junk (if you don’t have an overflow valve skip to step 5).

Step 4: If the coil is completely clean (like ours- not one single hair to be found) do not be deterred. Shove a wet washcloth into the opening under the faucet where the overflow cover had been to keep any pressure that you’re about to apply to the drain from escaping.

Step 5: Plunge the drain like it’s your job. Every ten times in a row or so the washcloth would come loose and need to be shoved tightly back into the hole to keep the air from escaping with every plunge (a tight seal is everything). If you have a spare person around they can help by holding the washcloth in place to keep the seal nice and tight, although I’m thrilled to say that I didn’t even need John (but would’ve appreciated the eye candy).

Step 6: After about three or four ten-second attempts (a total of about forty plunges) if nothing is happening don’t give up. I almost did, but the idea of another shower spent standing in five inches of stagnant water was enough to spur me on. “No. More. Wrinkly. Feet.” I chanted (screamed?) as I plunged.

Step 7: Cue the beautiful music. No it won’t be Beyoncé’s Put A Ring On It, it’ll be the glorious sound of the drain gurgling and furiously draining right before your very eyes. At least that’s what happened in my case. And I may or may not have gotten misty-eyed at the sight of the swirling water.

Step 7: Screw the overflow cover back into place and call your husband/friend/parole officer to brag about your newfound plumbing skills. In my case I called John to gloat. I also debated greeting him at the door bent over with my butt crack out (we’re married, it’s ok) but decided against it.

Step 8. As a precautionary method, to clear things out even further, pour half a cup of baking soda and a cup of white vinegar down the drain (we actually used 50% rice wine vinegar and 50% apple cider vinegar because we had it on hand and it worked like a charm). Let it sit for five minutes and then flush everything down with a gallon of boiling hot water. This time everything should be whisked right down the drain like a flume ride at an amusement park. It might be the best moment of your life.

And that’s all it took. Zero dollars, zero chemicals, and zero manpower (lady power all the way). So that’s the story of me + 1 plunger +1 dishcloth + sheer desperation. Take that clog. Who’s your daddy? And it sure beat paying a pro to come work some magic in five minutes and bill me $80-$150 for his time. Which is not to say that we don’t highly encourage hiring a professional if you just can’t crack something on your own. For example, if this had been a clog in the main line or if exterior tree roots or pipe corrosion had been involved we definitely would have been happy to pay someone to swoop in and save the day.

And now I’ll enthusiastically end this drain discussion with even more bullets, in the form of what precautions we’ll be taking to make sure this never ever happens again (many of which were suggested by our lovely readers):

  • We’ll be snagging a better drain trap with mesh that blocks a heckova lot more hair than our current metal plug (seen above)
  • I’ll be brushing my hair before each shower so more comes out before I step into the tub
  • We’ll be using our little baking soda and vinegar science project as maintenance every month from here on out

What about you guys? Any stories of home improvement triumph following a few frustrating attempts at something? Sometimes it takes a challenge to truly make you feel victorious!

Comments

  1. Ann says

    You are my hero!

    I’m embarrassed to admit no wonderful home triumphs at our house unless you count removing four layers of wallpaper or turning a closet that was once a kitchen for renters back into a closet.

  2. says

    Go Sherry!! I LOVE that you guys managed to pull this off sans chemicals and on your own. I’m also thinking we should do some monthly baking soda maintenance on our drain. Thanks for all the tips!

  3. says

    Congrats on conquering your clog!

    I used to have the same problem with my shower drain, and I came up with a simple but kinda gross way to avoid a foot-bath while showering. When I’m sudsing up or rinsing conditioner out and hair comes off on my finges, I put the hair on the shower wall. I let it collect there through my shower then I gather it all before I step out and throw it away. Not the prettiest solution, I’ll admit, but it’s worked for me.

  4. says

    Victory!!! Glad that you got it! My husband swears by flushes of super hot water. Fill a bucket and spontaneous dump, as we too hate the chemical thing. Most of the time it works after several attempts.

  5. Christin says

    ROCK ON SISTER! That’s awesome! I have a dumb question: does it matter what kind of vinegar you use with the baking soda?

    • says

      Carrie- I love the wall of hair idea. Totally adding it to my list of things to do to avoid the dreaded clog resurgence.

      Christin- Good question! The answer is probably not since we didn’t have white vinegar on hand (which is suggested) so we used 50% rice wine vinegar and 50% apple cider vinegar. It still fizzed like a champ and got right to work. As long as it’s not red vinegar you’re probably ok (just for stain reasons you might want to avoid that). Hope it helps!

      Megan- Thanks for the brush recommendation! I’ll definitely be checking it out…

      A Southern Accent- You’re so right. All I needed was a little boom boom pow. And man did it feel good.

      xo,
      s

  6. Megan says

    Yay, I see my advice is on the list of preventative measures! Trust me, brushing your hair BEFORE the shower will make a world of difference. Not only will your drain be less hairy, but it helps break up all of the products that may be in your hair, allowing your shampoo to work better (cue the music: “so fresh and so clean, clean”). In case you need a good brush recommendation: Google “Spornette 21″, I’ve used this brush style for the last 12 years and will never use another kind of brush again.

  7. Tara says

    Your comments and writing style crack me up!! I love it. Good Job Sherry! I am also lovin’ Burgers Bachelor comments on his ladies.

    • says

      Aw thanks Tara. I can’t take any credit for Burger’s comments over on Hamburger’s House (that’s all his thing, we promised not to interfere) but as for this post I must admit I did try to keep things fun, because let’s face is, a post about a clogged drain isn’t usually very entertaining stuff. Glad you’re amused!

      xo,
      s

  8. patricia says

    Just one more comment. As an owner of rental property I know that not all plungers are created equal. My renter called and said that her toilet was clogged despite her efforts with 2 different plungers to open the drain. After buying many different plungers, the best one we have found is the old fashioned heavy duty plunger (not the cheapest one at the hardware store) It this case it pays to spend more to get results. We have tried new and improved models (one that looks like an accordian)but the old fashioned one works best.

    • says

      Patricia- Great tip about snagging a quality plunger. We have had one of the heavy duty thick black ones for the past few years and really love what it has accomplished!

      Teresa- We love that idea! It’s a great way to “recycle” old baking soda from the fridge and the freezer!

      Cathryn- Thanks so much for the Oxo drain cover recommendation. We’ll definitely be checking it out asap.

      You guys are all so smart and sweet to chime in with even more ideas. Smooches to every last one of ya!

      xo,
      s

  9. says

    Whenever it is time to change the baking soda in the fridge and freezer, I use the old boxes in all of my drains (with the vinegar and boiling water). Not only am I recycling, but it reminds me to clean my drains.

  10. Julianne Hendrickson says

    AWESOME!! I know that happy dance…we do it around here a LOT being new homeowners saying “I didn’t think we could do that!!”